The Dictionary of Imaginary Places

Alberto Manguel, Gianni Guadalupi

My opinion of Alberto Manguel's writing states he was forever in the process of writing the same book over and over again. That book was about the act of reading and the effects which books had on the society that printed them. My two other books of his were essentially this same topic, in a continuation of research. I was, however, vaguely aware of one item in Manguel's bibliography that looked almost out-of-place. This one, specifically. Even though my opinion of Manguel's books was rather uniform, I still had great respect for his writing. So it sat as a curiosity for a long time, hung there in the back of my mind. ... yet now, it sits as a curiosity on my shelves.

It is an alphabetically-sorted catalogue of fictional places as featured in various novels, sampling mostly from the English literary canon, but also including pan-European historical books too. The only limitation I noticed in the selection of what texts these listings were drawn from was that they are rendered in the same alphabet as regular English: allowing for things in French, German, and Spanish. After a prelude about the locale's observable features and recent known histories, it proceeds to talk about these places from the perspective of a visiting traveler, offering suggestions and advisement for things to see or safely avoid.

I can't honestly say I have finished reading it, this seven-hundred-page clunker of a book. I will admit to having cover-to-cover'd other books of its kind, but this one has an unique feeling that makes it seem utterly overwhelming. The most one can do is flip to a random page and proceed to get lost in it, for a time.

There is one element to this book that many modern readers would find lacking. It limits the sample to fictional locales implied to exist on Earth or a sufficiently Earth-like geology; thus featuring places from classical fantasy novels like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, but excluding any settings found in science fiction or outer space. Furthermore, despite having plenty of selections from recent literary history—Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series for one prominent-if-unfortunate example—notably lacking is any Discworld representation. ... rather than give in to the obvious accusation of some kind of limited elitism, I would instead take this absence to its logical conclusion. By not including it in this dictionary of imaginary places, Manguel and Guadalupi therefore assert the City-State of Ankh-Morpork is a perfectly real, geographic place.

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